The Football Association was plunged into turmoil last night, seeking its seventh chief executive in little more than 10 years after Ian Watmore unexpectedly resigned. Watmore had been a force for change at the FA in the past nine months but he had grown frustrated with those he felt to be blocking his progress – especially, it is thought, the Premier League chairman, Dave Richards.
Richards also sits on a number of FA committees, including the board, and is culturally far removed from Watmore, having risen up through the ranks of the FA structure to a position of power. Though relations between the FA and Premier League are generally positive, Watmore felt that Richards consistently blocked decisions on a number of issues. Watmore's relationship with the FA chairman, Lord Triesman, does not appear to have contributed to his decision to leave and Triesman spent the weekend trying to talk round the 52-year-old, who had informed him of his decision to go last Friday.
Triesman knew his efforts had come to nothing when news got out that Watmore was livid about the leak of an email sent to FA members concerning the appointment of a new communications director, Julian Eccles. The appointment of Eccles, and of an FA group director of digital and information technology, were part of the chief executive's attempts to make the organisation more professional.
There was some sensitivity about the fact that Eccles was another recruit from the world of politics, and some members of the FA Council privately complained they were being frozen out. A question-and-answer attachment to a communiqué about the appointment – sent to a select group, including the FA board – attempted to debunk suspicions about the appointment. It leaked on Saturday.
Triesman and Watmore did not always appear to be cut from the same cloth, even though it was the FA chairman who hired Watmore, a former civil servant, from his role as permanent secretary for the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills. The two men had not seemed close at the most recent International Football Association Board meeting in Zurich and their views on some key issues were at odds. Watmore was sceptical about the financial fair play rules backed by Triesman and the Uefa president, Michel Platini. But the two did have a good working relationship. A source close to Watmore indicated last night that the outgoing chief executive had no issue with Triesman, though he would not be drawn on the relationship with Sir Dave.
Watmore's relationship with FA staff was also understood to be a good one, and staff at the Premier League had been impressed by his immediate grasp of issues on such recent areas of collaboration as the Portsmouth financial crisis and debt issues.
Watmore is the latest in a long list of chief executives to have gone in the past decade: Graham Kelly, David Davies (in an acting capacity), Adam Crozier, Mark Palios and Brian Barwick preceded him. While in Government Watmore worked in the same department as Lord Triesman, and before 2004 he had worked in IT for 24 years. He was always seen as an individual with the intellectual strength not to be pushed around.
A fan of Arsenal and Altrincham, Watmore is a genuine football man – always happier watching a game at grass-roots level that in the top flight. His main achievement had been reviving the National Football Centre at Burton. He had also organised the new Women's Premier League, due to start this year, though he was not involved in the 2018 World Cup bid.